It’s hard to pick up the newspaper, listen to the news, or follow any form of media and not arrive at the unhappy conclusion that we are led by idiots. Our leaders in Washington, DC have put before us an astounding list of catastrophes: the Afghanistan pullout, a dramatic upturn in domestic crime, obvious inflation, total disorder at the southern border, a self-generated energy crisis, a pandemic response that did little good and has brought financial ruin and a degradation to our trust in the Federal Governments response to national emergencies. Then there are the perennial national embarrassments: a mind-bogglingly expensive welfare state that doesn’t work, public schools that make kids dumber, universities that nurture destructive grievances and noxious ideologies, and a news media that nobody trusts. (Barton Swaim opinion editor, WSJ, paraphrased)
Those are the words from most folks that are carefully examining our national leadership and the politicians in charge. But this past Wednesday we had a brief look at the book of Jude, and one think that got my attention was Jude’s appeal to the people to show respect to those in authority. It occurred to me we are drifting further and further from submitting to authority and respecting those that are placed in authority over us. And as I researched and prayed about this topic, I was surprised to see how many historical figures of the past 60 years challenged the idea of showing respect to our leaders and national statesmen.
We are required to respect each other, obviously, but the Bible and Christ Himself was clear about the essential matter of respecting those in authority over us—-regardless of the government is good or bad. When Christ spoke about giving respect and taxes to Cesar, Palestine was being ruled by men far more corrupt than we’ve seen here in the USA. The Cesars’ that ruled Rome answered to no one. One declared his horse a senator, others had their own relatives murdered with the snap of their fingers.
My appeal this morning is for the children and youth that are being taught to challenge authority, protest our government, show a lack of respect to teachers, coaches and police officers. Vince Lombardi once said that football is like life - it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority. Young people: you will go far and be blessed if you learn to submit to authority and respect those that God has placed in your life as parents, coaches, leaders, and teachers. You don’t have to agree with them or even like them, but God expects you to respect people that are authority over you.
The Word of God is clear and offers nothing confusing or contradictory about the subject of respect: God expects us to submit to those in authority, irrespective of if they are a good person or not; a proper role model or moron; whether they are right or wrong. The only accessions we are to disregard or disobey is when those over us demand that we break God’s laws or worship another God.
I’ve had a few bosses in my life, and I got along well with each of them except for the two pastors I served. I was a youth pastor in college and seminary, and I had a very hard time respecting those pastors I served under. When I was initially hired all went well, but as the youth programs grew, their approval of me and my respect for the pastors diminished. In my mind they were both arrogant and demanded all the attention. If anyone else got praised or was complimented, they were not charitable towards that person. But I can tell you now that I was wrong to have my ill-feelings about these two men. I was right about their flaws, but I was required to respect the office they held and do my best to show respect to them. They were both removed from their positions within a year of my departure, and honestly, my early years of ministry were patterned to do the exact opposite of what these men did at staff meetings or in their pastoring or preaching.
But while Jesus obviously did not approve of the Chief Priest’s conduct, or Pilate’s political sense of self-preservation, He submitted to their authority even when they were patently wrong. In fact He reminded Pilate that Pilate had authority over Jesus precisely because God had ordained it.
There are three things I see recurring through the scriptures regarding respect:
1. Parents are to prepare kids for life, and a life with God, by requiring that they respect and obey the mom, dad, and their elders. Moses said: ‘You shall rise up before the gray-headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord., Leviticus 19:32. Do we teach children to respect the elderly? Why should we? Because God said so.
Paul reminds youth and children: “..obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1. God did not say, “Obey your parents when they are right or when they ask sweetly”, but simply, “obey!”. At the very beginning of the Bible one the most important commandments in life is: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Exodus 20:12. Again, it’s not a matter of agreeing with their demands or decisions, but that we honor them, and speak and treat them with respect. God expects this and His hand will be against the parents if they fail to teach this and the child if they fail to accept it.
My sons are not allowed to say “what” or “yea” or “no” or, worst of all, “huh”, and I’ve warned them that they had better not address a judge or police officer like that either! In demanding that my sons address adults with “yes sir” or “no sir” or “I beg your pardon”, I am preparing them to learn how to speak to people in authority that could one day make their lives very miserable in the back of a police car or jail should they fail to use good manners.
I was raised at a different time when life did not revolve around the children. We, the kids, were little satellites that orbited around mom and dad. We were taught that what they said was worth hearing. At our own peril we failed to pay attention. I can’t count the times my parents, aunts and uncles would tell us that “children should be seen and not heard? A friend in France told me that similarly his grandfather would say that at the dinner table, “children should only speak when it is their turn…and children should never have a turn.” I am not sure that my parents’ generation was totally right about children never speaking till spoken to, but I am quite sure that we’ve got it wrong today when children dominate discussions when adults are present. A child learns nothing by speaking—-only by listening.
The author of Hebrews adds that, “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” Hebrews 12:9. We’re to respect our parents even when we’re being disciplined. Again, this seems to be slipping away from common child rearing practices. A child submitting to discipline or the consequences of bad choices prepares him or her for life—it’s an act of love.
2. The next theme about respect in the Bible is that adults are expected to respect and submit to ecclesiastical and secular leaders when they grow up. Paul put it this way, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” Romans 13:7. Recall that these same leaders Paul calls his listeners to respect had just put him in prison, beat him and eventually executed him. But the man never called for a riot and he never called the Emperor—-a pretty disgusting despot at the time—-what he was. He respected the role and position of the Emperor.
You might think that Donald Trump, or Joe Biden don’t deserve your prayers or attention, , but Saint Paul would differ with you. He said, “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered for everyone— for kings and all those in authority— so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity..” 1 Timothy 2:2. Do you pray for Nancy Pelosi, our Governor and our President? We’re supposed to, and I would add that while it might not change your political leanings, it will cause you to treat them with more dignity if you sincerely prayed for them. Peter went further, he said, “ Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” 1 Peter 2:17. Friends, the “King”, Nero, was known for his cruelty. His reign ended only when he committed suicide. He kicked his wife to death, had his own brother murdered, and is surely the one John refers to in Revelation as one of the “anti-Christs”. And yet he was the head of the state and Christians were told, by men such as Paul and Peter, to nonetheless honor the office they held. Like it or not, that’s the truth.
Just as Jesus said in the gospels, Paul repeats: ”Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Romans 13:1. Now the truth is, I don’t like that verse sometimes. God has established despots, crackpots, dictators? The likes of President Xi, Maduro, Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin are established by God?? Yes, the places of authority are echos of God’s authority, and even though they might be corrupt, maniacal and ruthless, their places of authority are to be respected and their laws, so long as they do not contradict God’s laws, are to be honored.
Now, I am not a socialist or communist or anarchist. I see the flaws, sins and depravity of governors, majors and some police officers…. but I also have been permitted to see my own flaws, sins and depravity… Have you? If you’re only going to respect people that leave impeccable lives, you’ll never respect anyone.
So when you want to argue that you are not required to show respect to someone as clownish as Donald Trump or as ignorant and senile as Joe Biden, think about these words: “… be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” 1 Peter 2:18. Peter said this ! The activists, Christians and pagan alike , needs to read meditate upon those words. We’re under God’s command to respect the laws and show respect to our leaders, regardless of their personal errors or ineptitude, unless the demand that we do something that clearly opposes God. Now I ask you, is that taught to our youth? Do you hear that from the news media?
Yet we hear over three dozen times in the Bible to submit to policeman, judges, governors and leaders. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority” 1 Peter 2:13. So ask yourself, do you pay taxes or do you hide your income? It’s not only illegal, of course, but it’s contrary to what Jesus Himself taught as well as the teaching of the early church: ““For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.” Romans 13:6
3. The final point in scriptures is this: we’re to submit to God Almighty. You see, by being taught to obey and respect our parents, and then being required to honor those in authority over us in our communities, we are, in fact, honoring God. This is His plan. Paul said: “ Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Romans 13:2. Why don’t people obey God’s laws and rules? They don’t like them and have no respect or fear of Him. But that idea of not obeying rules and disrespecting those that are over us begins at childhood. You don’t have to understand your mom or dad’s reasons for saying “no”; we don’t have to agree with a speed limit or are tax bracket. But it’s an exercise in respecting God to respect both our parents and our rulers.
Someone once said that “disrespect is the weapon of the weak.” It takes no intelligence or strength of will to be rude or impertinent.
And finally, for those of us that are parents, or bosses, or “rulers”, our job or position might give us authority, but our behavior gives us respect. Let’s not make it any more difficult than it is for those under our authority to respect us and comply with our expectations.